Anna the Bookbinder
Author: Andrea Cheng; Illustrator: Ted Rand
Pages: 32
Publisher/Date: Walker & Company/2003
ISBN: 0802788319
Age Levels: 4-8 and up

Book Review

The story, set in the early 1900s, opens with our protagonist, Anna, standing in her father's workshop, a book bindery. Anna loves the bindery and watching her Papa work. We learn that Papa is losing business to the large binderies. Unlike Papa, the big binderies are using glue instead of hand stitches to bind the books. Although the hand stitching process is slower, it is more reliable and will last longer, says Papa.

Unfortunately, some of Papa's clients threaten to take their business elsewhere. Mr. Levinson, for example, wants a three-volume set—clearly a week's worth of work for Papa—done in a matter of three days (in time for his wife's birthday). Instead of losing his customer, Papa agrees to the demand, even though he appears bone-tired. (He has been working days and nights to keep up.)

Papa is not the only family member who is tired. "Mama is tired, too," says Anna, "with her stomach full of my new baby brother or sister." The baby was supposed to have arrived the week before. The family affectionately calls the baby "tortoise," a reference to Aesop's "The Tortoise and the Hare."

Anna awakes one morning to find a note from Papa. He is with the midwife and Mama, who is in labor. Anna goes to the workshop and notices that Mr. Levinson's books are there, ready to be stitched. Knowing that Papa will never be able to finish them in time, Anna decides to bind them herself. After all, she had seen Papa do it often enough. And, she thinks, "I've even stitched some blank books for myself."

When Anna finishes the last book, Papa arrives to inform her that Mama has delivered a son. Anna shows Papa the bound books, hoping that they are done properly and that he will not be mad. Papa is delighted, and from the expression on his face, clearly proud of the job Anna has done.

The always-talented Ted Rand was the perfect choice for this gently told tale. His warm, luminous watercolors are full of period detail.

Classroom Uses: Anna would be the perfect accompaniment to a unit or lesson plan on the book arts. (See below for resources.) You may also want to consider this as an anchor text for a lesson on mechanization and the move away from handmade goods and the impact this had.

Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2003 Education Oasis

About the Author

Andrea Cheng apprenticed to a bookbinder in Lausanne, Switzerland, after graduating from Cornell University. She is the author of Grandfather Counts, Marika, and When the Bees Fly Home. Andrea lives with her husband and their three children in Cincinnati, Ohio.

About the Illustrator

Ted Rand has illustrated over seventy books for children, including Paul Revere's Ride, Salty Dog, and Sailing Home: A Story of a Childhood at Sea. Ted lives with his wife, Gloria, on Mercer Island, Washington.


Students may enjoy watching this YouTube video on Coptic Stitch Bookbinding.